At the root of Marx's critique of religion, as this took shape during his ten formative years between 1836 and 1846, there is a fundamental paradox. It would be unfair and beside the point to suggest that Marx himself was not conscious of this paradox, or that he was only dimly aware of it, or even that he must have banished his awareness of it to the region of the subconscious. This last suggestion only dissolves the problem into vague psycho-analytic generalities, whereas the first overlooks the specific way in which Marx wrestled with the paradox. The second suggestion, that some hazy notion of the problem might have lingered in his mind, is no more than a combination of the two other ways of evading the real issue.
The paradox becomes evident in Marx's development during these years, which impelled him to start out on his critique of religion just when he had come to regard it as already completed. The contrast between these two insights may be illustrated by two remarks, the first made in 1842, the second dating from two years later. In a letter of November 1842 to Arnold Ruge, Marx opens his attack on the merely philosophical atheism and communism of Bruno Bauer and his Young Hegelian colleagues. Being at this time editor of the Rheinische Zeitung, Marx has become convinced of the need to come to grips with the political situation at a very concrete and practical level. He wants “to criticize religion by criticizing political conditions rather than the other way round”. His first reason for this is that it would be more in accordance with the character of a newspaper and the necessity of educating the public. Secondly, it is “because religion, quite vacuous in itself, draws its life from this earth and not from heaven and will disappear of its own accord, once the perverted reality whose theory it represents is dissolved”. Finally, if one wants to deal with philosophy, one should flirt less with the idea of atheism (which is reminiscent of those children who loudly inform anyone who cares to listen that they are not afraid of the bogeyman) and do more to acquaint people with its meaning. These remarks might well be taken to indicate that Marx regarded the critique of religion as tilting at windmills, and so turned once and for all to the critique of politics.
However, two years later, in The Holy Family, Marx praises Feuerbach for having completed the critique of religion by, in effect, providing a blueprint for the critique of Hegelian speculation, in a word, of all metaphysics. This time Marx recognizes that the critique of religion can only be realized by means of a critique of Hegelian speculation; he takes religion, in its philosophical guise, in deadly earnest. The clue to this differentiation is to be found in two comments on Feuerbach, made in letters written during the intervening period. In a letter to Arnold Ruge of March 1843, in which Marx welcomes the idea of starting the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Annals), he comments on Feuerbach's recently published Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy. His criticism concerns the one-sidedness of Feuerbach's aphorisms, which concern themselves too much with nature and too little with politics. Marx is convinced that an alliance with politics is the only way for contemporary philosophy to become a reality. But he adds that it will probably turn out as it did in the sixteenth century, when the champions of nature were confronted with another set of enthusiasts, the champions of the State. One and a half years later, in August 1844, Marx writes a letter to Feuerbach himself, in which he promises to send him his own recently published article Introduction to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law. Marx takes the opportunity to comment on two of Feuerbach's recent books, namely, Grundsätze der Philosophie der Zukunft (Principles of a Philosophy of the Future) (1843), and Das Wesen des Glaubens im Sinne Luther's. Ein Beitrag zum “Wesen des Christentums” (The Essence of Faith according to Luther's doctrine. A contribution to “The Essence of Christianity”) (1844). He commends these books for having—perhaps involuntarily—laid a philosophical foundation for socialism. Feuerbach has drawn the notion of the human species from the heaven of abstraction down to the real earth. And, Marx adds, is not this notion exactly the same as the notion of society?
This casual addition enshrined a basic difference between Marx and Feuerbach. For by interpreting Feuerbach's concept of man as identical with his own concept of society Marx was, in fact, bridging the gap between Feuerbach's concern with an abstract concept of nature and his own interest in the concrete realm of politics. In the “German Ideology” it was soon to become evident that Marx's “real earth” was something fundamentally different from the “real earth” of Feuerbach. The crucial point of difference was that Feuerbach, in pulling his concept from the heaven of abstraction down to earth, had merely substituted an abstract earth for an abstract heaven. The real critique of heaven had not been completed by Feuerbach at all; it had still to be accomplished, not by replacing heaven with earth, but by criticizing heaven in its earthly manifestations or, to put it the other way round, by criticizing the earth in its heavenly manifestations. This paradox is the key to Marx's development during his ten formative years. Having turned from the theoretical and philosophical to the practical and political realm, it was his initial belief that religion would disappear of its own accord, once the perverted reality whose theory it represents had been dissolved. At the same time he discovered that the critique of earth itself consists in a critique of the heavenly manifestation of the earth. His critique was, in essence, a radical critique of Hegel.
It seems that, initially, Marx had it in mind to publish the articles he intended to write about various parts of Hegel's philosophy, in the series of pamphlets designed to continue Bruno Bauer's anonymously published pamphlet, The Trumpet of the last judgment on Hegel the atheist and antichrist. By the time when, in a letter to Ruge of March 1842, he gave notice of an article containing a critique of Hegel's theory of natural law, censorship had already succeeded in putting a stop to this initial series of pamphlets. The article was not, in fact, published in any of the other reviews edited by Ruge. According to Marx's account of it, it contained an attack on Hegel's theory of constitutional monarchy, which Marx regarded as a thoroughly self-contradictory and inconsistent hybrid. In the next letter, written a fortnight later, he describes his article as “the critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law”; and he apologizes for the delay in sending it off, which, he says, was owing to unforeseen circumstances. As a matter of fact, something more than a year later, during the summer of 1843 which Marx spent in Kreuznach, he wrote an extensive article with the same title. This was obviously a new and more elaborate version of his earlier attempt. It is his intention, he says, to publish it in the German-French Annals, to be launched before very long in Paris. In the last months of 1843, Marx wrote an introduction to the article; which introduction was indeed published. The publication of the article itself was plainly adumbrated in this introduction. Of course, the collapse of the German-French Annals frustrated this project; but that was certainly not the only, nor even the most important, reason for the fact that it was never published—and for that matter never even completed. In his letter to Feuerbach of August 1844 Marx describes his “Introduction” as “referring to some elements of my critical philosophy of law, which I had already once completed but subsequently subjected to revision, with a view to making it generally understandable”.
The year 1844 finds Marx at work on the so-called Parisian manuscripts, which remained unpublished until 1932, when they appeared under the title Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of the Year 1844. In the draft preface Marx explains the basic reasons that have so far prevented him from publishing his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law. When he was preparing the work for publication, it became apparent that a combination of the critique directed solely against the speculative theory with the critique of the various subjects would be quite unmanageable; it would hamper the development of the argument and make it more difficult to follow. Moreover, he could only have compressed such a wealth of diverse subjects into a single work by writing in an aphoristic style; and that would have given an impression of arbitrary systematization. It was therefore his intention to publish his critique of law, morals, politics, and so forth, in a number of separate brochures. Finally, he would attempt, in a separate work, to present the interconnected whole, to show the relationships between the parts, and to provide a critique of the speculative treatment of this material.
In the same draft preface Marx refers to the final chapter of the present work, a critique of Hegel's dialectic and general philosophy. He calls this “the necessary confrontation of the critique with its place of origin, Hegel's dialectic and German philosophy as a whole”. Unlike the critical theologians such as Bruno Bauer and his fellow Young Hegelians, he considers such a critical approach to be absolutely essential; for the real task has not yet been accomplished. This lack of thoroughness is not accidental; for the critical theologian remains a theologian. Looked at more closely, theological critique, which at the beginning of the movement was a genuinely progressive factor, is seen in the last analysis to be no more than the culmination and consequence of the old philosophical, and especially Hegelian, transcendentalism, twisted into a theological caricature. He praises Feuerbach as the founder of a positive, humanistic and naturalistic critique. His writings are the only since Hegel's Phenomenology and Logic that contain a genuinely theoretical revolution.
Obviously, this concluding Critique of the Hegelian dialectic and philosophy as a whole, was designed by Marx as a first attempt to complete the critique of religion which, as he explained a year later in The Holy Family, had been provided with a blueprint in Feuerbach's critique of Hegelian speculation, in a word, of all metaphysics. Thus the three articles enshrining Marx's direct confrontation with Hegel, afford us an insight into the total context of his approach. First, it is noteworthy that of these only one has been published, namely, the Introduction, which in Marx's own opinion did little more than allude to some elements of his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law, which article was never published in his lifetime, and was never even completed. The third treatise, which contains at least a first attempt to settle accounts with Hegelian speculation as a whole, not only remained unpublished and unfinished but, being one of the 1844 Parisian Manuscripts, was even lost to view until it was recovered in the present century. These facts not only mirror a typical feature of Marx's character, I mean, his endless self-criticism and restless creativity of mind; they also show how intense was his relationship to what he considered to be the womb and progenitor of his own thinking, the philosophy of Hegel. His relationship to Hegel's thinking was so much a part of the inner recesses of his mind and was so intimately involved in his most personal reflections that only with the most painful effort was he able to produce a few pages which he considered it worthwhile for a larger public to read. Apart from that, the three articles on Hegel's philosophy also illuminate another important characteristic. The admixture of pure critique of Hegel's speculation as such and a critique of specific subjects treated by Hegel—an amalgam which Marx earnestly deplored in his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law—was not an accidental, merely stylistic error. On the contrary, this strange mixture reflected an essential feature of Marx's approach. What he dreaded most of all was abstraction. It was on these grounds that he took exception to Bauer's critique. It was the ability to reject abstraction which, initially, fascinated him in Feuerbach's critique; and it was Feuerbach's inability really to overcome abstraction which in the end made him opposed to Feuerbach. It was the magic spell of Hegel's approach to concrete reality which, initially, captivated his mind; and it was Hegel's falling victim to the spell of his own abstractions that ultimately aroused the deepest resistance on Marx's part. But with Hegel philosophy had absorbed the world; and so it was impossible to criticize the world without at the same time criticizing philosophy. On the other hand, it proved impossible to criticize Hegel's speculation without at the same time criticizing the world which had fallen under Hegel's spell and had become part of his speculation. Marx was never able, therefore, to separate his critique of Hegel's speculation from his critical analysis of political reality. The Parisian Manuscripts of 1844 are an impressive illustration of this essential admixture. The Critique of Hegelian dialectic and philosophy as a whole is not only part of a manuscript which itself contains a unique mixture of political economy and philosophical anthropology but, although it was designed to be a concluding chapter, its content is strangely dispersed and disseminated among other passages in the Parisian Manuscripts. The Manuscripts as a whole are a challenge and a source of bewilderment to the analytic interpreter who tries to create a reasonable order out of the jigsaw puzzle Marx has left behind.
Recognition of the indissoluble unity of Marx's critique is an indispensable premise to any understanding of the relationship between its two dimensions. In this concluding lecture, which links up my first series on the critique of heaven with the second series dealing with the critique of earth, I must be content to illustrate this essential unity with some references to Marx's direct confrontation with Hegel. A closer analysis of Marx's writings of 1843 and 1844, which contain his direct critique of Hegel's philosophy, would go beyond the limited goal of this first series. The essential mixture of Marx's formal confrontation with Hegel's speculation and his material critique of Hegel's political philosophy forces the student of Marx's critique to move for an adequate analysis to the other dimension, the critique of earth. And so a rough sketch of the general context of Marx's critique of Hegel must suffice to conclude my first series of lectures.
We take as our starting-point the Introduction to the critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law. Other documents—in the first instance the other two articles on Hegel's philosophy and, additionally, the writings of the two subsequent years—in so far as they can contribute to a better understanding, will be used as sources of interpretation.
The Introduction starts with a definition of the critique of religion. Its basic postulate is that man makes religion. Man here means the world of man, the state, society. This state, this society, produce religion, a perverted world-consciousness, because they constitute a perverted world. Marx then proceeds to enumerate various characteristic ways in which religion is the perverted world-consciousness of a perverted world. Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, and so forth. The passage finally reaches the conclusion that the struggle against religion is therefore indirectly the fight against that world, a world of which religion is the spiritual aroma.
The list of characteristics of religion enumerated by Marx is twice as long; but I have deliberately mentioned only the first half. For the description of religion as the general theory of a perverted world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic, contains a direct and unmistakable reference to Hegel's philosophy. The further remark that it is logic in a popular form is an allusion to Hegel's view of religion as a representation of absolute philosophical truth in a popular imaginative form. The fourth characteristic, that is, religion as the spiritual point d'honneur, is the link between the first run of characteristics, stressing the theoretical, philosophical aspect, and the second part of the list which summarizes the ethical and emotive elements in religion: religion as the enthusiasm of a perverted world, its moral sanction, its solemn completion, its universal ground for consolation and justification. The two distinct aspects are defined in an ensuing passage as spirit and heart: religion is the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. The latter expression recalls the central principle of Hegel's philosophy, whereas the former describes the emotive function of religion.
An essential element in Marx's description is that from the very outset his concern is focused on the relationship of religion and the world of man, state, society. This is the only relationship in which he is interested. Any other explanation of, for instance, religion as a psychological phenomenon, a process inside the human soul, a form of transempirical self-projection, is beside the specific point under discussion. In so far as religion has reality, albeit a perverted reality, it owes its reality to this world. Marx does not write a psychological or phenomenological treatise about the import of religion; but his description forms part of the Introduction to a critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law. That implies two things. First, it means that the theme is the world of man, state and society. The second implication is that the subject of Marx's critique is the philosophy which claims to represent the spiritual completion of that world of man, its universal ground of justification. Hegel's philosophy claims to be the summary, the comprehension of the world. His Logic, far from being merely an analysis of the laws of human reason, is the logic of the world, just as his Encyclopaedia is the encyclopaedic compendium of that world.
An adequate understanding of Marx's critique of religion must start, therefore, from his critique of Hegel's philosophy as a whole. Marx's analysis can be summarized as follows. Hegel's Encyclopaedia begins with logic, with pure speculative thought, and ends with absolute knowledge, self-conscious and self-conceiving philosophical or absolute mind, that is to say, superhuman, abstract mind. The whole of the Encyclopaedia is nothing but the extended being of the philosophical mind, its self-objectification; and the philosophical mind is nothing but the mind of the alienated world, thinking within the confines of its self-alienation, that is, conceiving itself in an abstract manner. Likewise, Hegel's Logic is the currency of the mind, the speculative thought-value of man and of nature, their essence, unrelated to any real, determinate character, and thus unreal; thought which is alienated and abstract and ignores real nature and man. Finally, Hegel's spirit, this thought which returns to its own origin and which, as anthropological, phenomenological, psychological, customary, artistic-religious spirit, is not valid for itself until it discovers itself and relates itself to itself as absolute knowledge in the absolute (i.e. abstract) spirit, and so receives its conscious and fitting existence. For its real mode of existence is abstraction.
Marx tries to demonstrate that the way religion is absorbed in this concept is only one aspect of Hegel's spiritual comprehension of the total world of man. Feuerbach had shown that philosophy is nothing more than religion translated into thought and developed by thought, and that it is equally to be condemned as another form and mode of existence of human alienation. Hegel's dialectic begins from the infinite, the absolute and fixed abstraction, which is to say in ordinary language, from religion and theology. Secondly, he supersedes the infinite and posits the real, the perceptible, the finite and the particular; in other words, philosophy is posited as the supersession of religion and theology. Thirdly, he then supersedes the positive and re-establishes the abstraction, the infinite; in other words, the re-establishment of religion and theology. Thus self-conscious man, after superseding religion, when he has recognized religion as a product of self-alienation, then finds a confirmation of himself in religion as religion.
Marx calls this the root of Hegel's false positivism, or of his merely apparent critique. Whereas Feuerbach had launched his attack on Hegel's dialectic of positing, negating and reestablishing merely in so far as this concerned religion and theology, Marx looks at this in a more general way. In Hegel's philosophy, the same man, who has recognized that he leads an alienated life in law, politics, and so forth, leads his true human life in this alienated life as such. Reason is at home in unreason as such. Self-affirmation, in conflict with itself, in conflict with the knowledge and the nature of the object, is thus the true knowledge and life. In other words, the suggestion raised in Marx's dissertation that Hegel's so-called accommodation to the established situation is rooted in the nature of his philosophy, is found to be confirmed. There can no longer be any question about Hegel's compromise with religion, the state, and so on; for this error is the error of his whole argument.
In Hegel's dialectic the act of supersession plays a strange part, in that denial and preservation, denial and affirmation, are linked together. Marx illustrates this procedure with Hegel's Philosophy of Law: private law superseded equals morality, morality superseded equals the family, the family superseded equals civil society, civil society superseded equals the state and the state superseded equals world history. But in actuality private law, morality, the family, civil society, the state, etc. remain; only they have become “moments”, modes of man's existence, which have no validity in isolation but which mutually dissolve and engender one another. They are moments of the movement. In their actual existence this mobile nature is concealed. It is first revealed in thought, in philosophy; consequently, my true religious existence is my existence in the philosophy of religion, my true political existence is my existence in the philosophy of law, and so on. In the one aspect, the existence which Hegel supersedes in philosophy is not therefore the actual religion, state, or nature, but religion itself as an object of knowledge, that is, dogmatics, and similarly with jurisprudence, political science, and natural science. From the other aspect, the religious man, for instance, can find in Hegel his ultimate confirmation.
The key to the mystery of Hegel's philosophy had already been found by Marx in the course of preparing for his dissertation. Discussing Plutarch's polemic aimed at Epicurus’ sensualist philosophy, he accuses Plutarch of turning being and non-being into fixed predicates. Thus Plutarch tries to separate qualities which in the actuality of the senses are not separated. Marx concludes that the common way of thinking always has abstract predicates to hand, predicates which it separates from the subject. “All philosophers have turned the very predicates into subjects.”
This discovery, at the moment of its formulation, was applied to Plutarch's misunderstanding of Epicurus which in Marx's view strikingly presented the relation of the theologizing intellect to philosophy. None the less, the formula is remarkable in two respects. First, it expresses the conviction that this particular case is more than an accidental feature of a thinker of the remote past; Marx's intuition claims to have traced a general characteristic. Secondly, though Plutarch is treated as a typical representative of theology as opposed to philosophy, it is not the theologians but the philosophers who are the subject of Marx's critique. Plutarch's theological relation to philosophy, which seemed to consist merely in a contrast between opposites, is revealed as bearing the seed of a profound congeniality. On closer analysis, philosophy turns out to conceal a theological kernel.
In this way, a fortuitous critique relating to a Greek theologian developed into a fundamental thesis that can be regarded as the cornerstone of Marx's critique of Hegel's philosophy and of metaphysics as a whole. It is this thesis which lies at the root of Marx's definition of religion as the general theory of a perverted world, its logic in a popular form. Religious man can find in Hegel his ultimate confirmation. Hegel's dialectic turns real man and real nature into mere predicates of a divine process which man's abstract, pure, absolute being, as distinguished from himself, traverses. Subject and object therefore have an inverted relation to each other. Hegel's Logic is the endless movement of a mystical subject-object; pure, unceasingly revolving upon itself; forms of thought, logical forms, which are detached from real spirit and real nature. Man alienated from himself is also the thinker alienated from his being, that is, from his natural and human life. Consequently, his thoughts are spirits existing outside nature and man. In his Logic Hegel has imprisoned all these spirits together. Just as Marx finds in Hegel's philosophy the culmination and final confirmation of religion, he is continually using a religious terminology for purposes of qualification. In his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law, Marx even goes to the extreme of labelling Hegel's Logic a Santa Casa. This was the terrible name (Santa Casa means “Holy House”) by which the Roman Catholic Inquisition in Madrid sanctified its prison as the place of its holy terrorism. The whole of Hegel's philosophy of law is exposed by Marx as an instance of logical, pantheistic mysticism, or in other words as a mere parenthesis of Hegel's Logic. The state serves as a test of the Logic.
This is demonstrated by Marx in various ways. First, Hegel's concept of the sovereignty of the state, embodied in the monarchy, is unmasked as a mystification. Hegel turns predicates into independent entities, and then allows them to be turned mystically into their own subjects. The sovereignty of the state exists as an abstract idea and is thereupon embodied in the monarch as the actual “God-man” (Gott-mensch). Hegel had compared this realization of the absolute concept of sovereignty in the corporeal existence of the monarch with the ontological proof of God's existence. Marx exposes it as the product of imagination, comparable to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Secondly, Hegel's view of the relationship between the state and civil society is analysed as an outcome of his Logic. Hegel's concept of the state is a phantasmal abstraction which he turns into a mystical, absolute entity. Proceeding from this idea, which is in reality the predicate, Hegel changes the real subject, man, into the predicate of the state. Man is turned into the subjectified state. By the inversion of subject and predicate, therefore, Hegel turns the real relationship upside down. Marx launches against this procedure exactly the same critique as against religion. Man makes religion, religion does not make man; likewise, the people make the political constitution, that constitution does not make the people. As a matter of fact, during the Middle Ages the political constitution was the religious sphere, the religion of the ordinary life of the people, the heaven of its general essence, as contrasted with the earthly existence of its reality. Whereas, during the Middle Ages, this dualism was a real dualism, in modern times it has turned into an abstract dualism. Politics, once the religion of the ordinary life of the people, has changed to become the scholasticism of their life: for the political state has become an abstraction. Just as Christians are equal in heaven, unequal upon earth, so the individuals who make up the people are equal in the heaven of their political world, unequal in the earthly existence of civil society.
Hegel's recognition of the separation, in modern times, between state and civil society, was right: but he was misled by the theological structure of his philosophy and so mistook mere abstractions for realities. He described civil society as a bellum omnium contra omnes, as a “battlefield where everyone's individual, private interest clashes with everyone else's”; but he did not recognize that this applies merely to the abstract construct of a civil society, as distinct from an abstract political state. Therefore, like his philosophy of religion, Hegel's philosophy of law does not solve the problem but only dissolves it into a mystifying solution.
Thus Marx's thesis that religion is the logic of a perverted world is demonstrated in the political sphere, in that Hegel's concept of state and society turns out to be a direct result of his Logic. The thesis applies to the economic sphere as well. I have already mentioned Marx's description of Hegel's Logic as “the currency of the mind, the speculative thought-value of man and nature, their essence, unrelated to any real, determinate character, and thus unreal”. This comparison between logic and money is more than an artistic metaphor; it has a fundamental bearing on Marx's concept of modern economic life. The phrase which associates logic with money is part of Marx's Critique of Hegel's dialectic and philosophy as a whole and can be regarded as a natural conclusion from the argument presented in the preceding pages of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, of which this critique forms the concluding chapter. In that preceding section Marx had, conversely, equated money with logic.
Money, since it has the property of purchasing everything, of appropriating objects to itself, is therefore the object par excellence. The universal character of this property corresponds to the omnipotence of money, which is regarded as an omnipotent being… money is the procurer between need and object, between human life and the means of subsistence. But that which makes a match between my life and my means of subsistence turns also the existence of other men into my means of subsistence. It is, for me, the other person, Marx, then, referring to a passage in Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, points to two properties of money, particularly emphasized by Shakespeare. First, money is the visible deity, the transformation of all human and natural qualities into their opposites, the universal confusion and inversion of things; it brings incompatibles into a fraternal relationship. Secondly, it is the universal whore, the universal procurer between men and nations. The power to confuse and invert all human and natural qualities, to bring about a conjunction of incompatibles, the divine power of money, resides in its character as the alienated and self-alienating essence of the human species. It is the alienated power of humanity.
But, as this alienated form of power, money is a genuinely creative power. The difference between effective demand, supported by money, and ineffective demand, based upon my need, my passion, my desire, and so on, is the difference between being and thought, between the merely inner representation and the representation which exists outside myself as a real object. Money is the external, universal means and power (not derived from man as man or from human society as society) to change representation into reality and reality into mere representation. It transforms real human and natural faculties into mere abstract representations, that is, into imperfections and excruciating chimeras; but on the other hand it transforms real imperfections and fancies, faculties which are really impotent and exist only in the individual's imagination, into real faculties and powers. In this respect, therefore, money is the general inversion of individualities, turning them into their opposites and associating contradictory qualities with their qualities. Money, then, appears as a perverting power for the individual and for the social bonds which claim to be self-subsistent entities. It is the universal confusion and transposition of all things, the perverted world, the confusion and transposition of all natural and human qualities.
Though it is beyond the scope of our theme, the “critique of heaven”, to analyse the function of these reflections within the framework of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, a few references are indispensable. The heart of the analogy between money and religion lies in the dependence of both upon the alienated capacities of man. The power of money is a product of the modern science of asceticism, the science of political economy. The more you are able to save, the greater will become your treasure which neither moth nor rust can corrupt—your capital. The less you are, the less you express your life, the more you have, the greater is your alienated life and the greater is the conservation of your alienated being. Everything which the economist takes from you in the way of life and humanity he restores to you in the form of money and wealth: and everything which you are unable to do your money can do for you.
Marx's reference to the accumulation of capital as the paradoxical fulfilment of Jesus’ commandment, given in the Sermon on the Mount, should not be reduced to something like an ironic comment on Christian hypocrisy, but has to be taken literally. The power of money as the visible deity of modern society literally creates a “heaven” above the sphere of real human life, a “heaven” where neither moth nor rust consumes. The modern worker is an ascetic but productive slave. He is related to the product of his labour as to an alien object. The more the worker expends himself in work, the more powerful becomes the world of objects which he creates facing himself, the poorer he becomes in his inner life, and the less he belongs to himself. It is just the same with religion. The more of himself man attributes to God, the less he has left in himself. The worker puts his life into the object; and his life then belongs no longer to himself but to the object. The greater his activity, therefore, the less he possesses. What is embodied in the product of his labour is no longer his own. The greater his product is, therefore, the more he is diminished. The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labour becomes an object, assumes an external existence, but that it exists independently, outside himself, and alien to him, and that it stands opposed to him as an autonomous power. The life which he has given to the object sets itself up against him as an alien and hostile force.
These reflections read like an exegesis of Jesus’ warning, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”, and they serve, in fact, as a literal interpretation. It is therefore not amazing that the economic theory of this alienated way of life, the science of political economy, is compared to theology. Marx's critique is, essentially, launched against the abstract procedure of modern economic science. Political economy begins with the fact of private property; it does not explain it. It conceives of the material process of private property, as this occurs in reality, in general and abstract formulas which then serve it as laws. It does not comprehend these laws; that is, it does not show how they arise out of the nature of private property. The only moving forces which political economy recognizes are avarice and the war between the avaricious, competition. It fails to grasp the real connection between this whole system of alienation and the system of money. The economist begins his explanation from a legendary, primordial condition. Such a primordial condition does not explain anything; it merely removes the question to a grey and nebulous distance. It asserts as a fact or event what it should deduce, namely the necessary relation between two things; for example, between the division of labour and exchange. In the same way, theology explains the origin of evil by the fall of man; that is, it asserts as a historical fact what it should explain.
This close analogy between the abstract methodology of economic science and theology is also illustrated with reference to the doctrine of the unity of labour and capital. Society, as it appears to the economist, is civil society, in which each individual is a totality of needs and only exists for another person, as another exists for him, in so far as each becomes a means for the other. The economist (like politics in its human rights) reduces everything to man, that is, to the individual, whom he deprives of all characteristics in order to classify him as a capitalist or a worker. Marx enumerates seven ways in which the economist establishes the unity of labour and capital, the final way being his postulating the original unity of capital and labour as the unity of capitalist and worker. “This,” Marx concludes, “is the original paradisal condition.”
Time and again Marx refers to this analogous methodology. Having demonstrated private property to be the basis and cause of alienated labour, he concludes that, in fact, the order is just the other way round: private property is, in reality, not the cause but the consequence of alienated labour, just as the gods are fundamentally not the cause but the product of confusions of human reason. At a later stage, however, there is a reciprocal influence.
Finally, I would point to the parallel drawn between Luther and Adam Smith. The comparison is derived from Friedrich Engels, who in his draft of a critique of political economy, published not long before in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, had called Adam Smith “the Luther of political economy”. The analogy is taken up by Marx and further elaborated by him. Just as Luther recognized religion and faith as the essence of the real world, and for that reason took up a position against Catholic paganism; just as he annulled external religiosity while making religiosity the inner essence of man; just as he negated the distinction between priest and layman by transferring the priest into the heart of the layman; so wealth external to man and independent of him (and thus only to be acquired and conserved from outside) is annulled. That is to say, its external and mindless objectivity is annulled by the fact that private property is incorporated in man himself, and man himself is recognized as its essence. But as a result, man himself is placed in the determination of private property, just as, with Luther, he is placed in the determination of religion. Thus, in the view of this enlightened political economy which has discovered the subjective essence of wealth within the framework of private property, the partisans of the monetary system, and the mercantilist system, who consider private property as a purely objective being for man, are fetishists and Catholics.
This reference to fetishism is taken up once again in a later chapter. The nations which are still dazzled by the sensuous glitter of precious metals, and who thus remain fetishists of metallic money, are not yet fully developed monetary nations. The extent to which the solution of a theoretical problem is a task of practice, and is accomplished through practice, and the extent to which correct practice is the condition of a true and positive theory is shown, for example, in the case of fetishism. The sense perception of a fetishist differs from that of a Greek because his sensuous existence is different. The abstract hostility between sense and spirit is inevitable so long as the human sense of nature, or the human import of nature, and consequently the natural sense of man, has not been produced by man's own labour.
The parallelism is further complicated by the contrast between England as the fully developed monetary nation and France as a nation which has not yet overcome the fetishism of metallic money. The article by Friedrich Engels which served as a source of the parallel between Luther and Adam Smith may also serve as a source of interpretation, in that Engels explicitly refers to the progress engendered by the Protestant environment of Adam Smith, in contrast with Catholic countries which lagged behind.
It is interesting, though hardly surprising, to find these complications recurring in Marx's Introduction to a critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law, which was published in the very period when he was writing the Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts. On the one hand, Luther's historical role is recognized as the carrying out of a theoretical revolution, namely, the Reformation. As the revolution then began in the mind of the monk, so now it begins in the mind of the philosopher. If Protestantism was not the true solution of the problem, it was at least the true posing of it. On the other hand, the deplorable backwardness of Germany, as compared with France and England, is likened to the stage of fetishism. Germany will one day find itself in the phase of European decadence before ever having been through that of European emancipation. It will be like a fetish worshipper pining away with the diseases of Christianity.
If these examples illustrate the key function of a metaphor like the term “fetishism” as the point of association between the religious, political and economic planes, one further—and final—example may serve to illustrate this multilateral symbolism from a different point of view. The metaphor in question relates to the term “procurer”, which serves as a nodal point for various trends in Marx's thinking. We have just encountered this term in the above-mentioned passage from the Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts, which defines money as “the procurer between need and object, between human life and the means of subsistence”, and again as “the universal whore, the universal procurer between men and nations”, in short, as the visible deity, the universal inversion of things.
Before we consider the specific function of this term, “procurer”, it should be noticed that in the same passage money is called both “the perverting power” and “the perverted world”. Its divine power resides in its character as the alienated and self-alienating essence of the human species. These definitions remind one very strongly of parallel definitions in the Introduction to the critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law, which describe religion as “a perverted world-consciousness”, produced by “a perverted world”, and as a phantasmal realization of the human essence.
A second noteworthy point is the definition with which this paragraph on money is introduced. It is pointed out that man's feelings, passions, and so forth, are not merely anthropological characteristics in the narrower sense, but true, ontological affirmations of being (nature), in a word, that they are only really affirmed in so far as their object exists as an object of sense. This ontological definition of man's nature must be understood in close connection with Marx's approach to the ontological proof of God's existence, which has already been discussed in an earlier lecture. Just as the Christian God and the pagan gods have a real existence, being the real objects and powerful products of man's creative imagination, so is money a visible deity, and so is the state a visible deity. Their divine power is not merely an anthropological characteristic, but is derived from the ontological character of human nature, of which it is the perverted realization.
With these definitions in mind, we turn now, at last, to the function of the term “procurer”. In a passage of The Holy Family which has already been quoted in an earlier lecture, Marx refutes the contention that the state holds together the atoms of civil society, declaring that the members of that society are held together by the fact that they are atoms only in the imagination, in the heaven of their fantasy, whilst in reality they are vastly different from atoms, being not divine egoists, but egoistic human beings. This human egoism, which is the perverted and alienated form of man's real, sensible nature, is the force which pulls the members of civil society out of their imagined atomic essence into the reality of their human, earthly, sensible needs. In this way, Marx declares, be it only by his profane stomach which reminds him of a world outside himself, every individual is forced to become, so to speak, a procurer between his alien need and the object of his need.
To sum up, the members of civil society, living in a perverted self-consciousness which makes them believe in themselves as immortal, self-sufficient atoms, are forced by their profane dependence on the real world outside themselves to become procurers functioning as a perverted match-maker that restores the link between the real world and themselves, a link which their atomistic self-deception had tried to destroy. Of course, the perversion of a perversion is not the same thing as the restoration of true reality; but as counter to a perverted imagination, this procurer does an indispensable service.
In this context it is understandable that Marx should call this reciprocal procurer-function, which holds the members of civil society together, “a real bond”. Its relative reality is the medium between two illusions. On the one side, the illusion that civil society resembles the world of eternal atoms. On the other, the political supposition that civil life must be held together by the state, whilst the truth is that the state is held together by civil life.
However, this “real bond” which holds the members of civil society together is only a relative reality, is the perversion of a perversion, is the sort of bond created by a procurer. The critique of this double perversion is the task of the critique of law, which is the necessary corollary and outcome of the critique of religion.
Thus his analysis of Epicurus’ atomistic philosophy brought Marx to the very point where the critique of theology turns into the critique of politics. For as we have already pointed out, the contradictions which he discovered in Epicurus’ philosophy are the very contradictions that dominate the political and economic philosophy of civil society. As it turns out, Epicurus’ philosophy proves to be a prototype of the modern mind.
To be sure, Epicurus remained Marx's life-long companion, and in a sense, his double. Epicurus’ career in this respect is a remarkable one. In the very earliest of Marx's writings we encounter Epicurus as an enemy of the Christian faith, in the defence of which Marx pens his religious composition for the finals of the high school, under the title The Union of Believers with Christ. The composition leads up to the conclusion that “union with Christ affords a joy which is sought in vain by the Epicurean in his superficial philosophy”.
Next, at the outset of his academic studies in Berlin, Marx undergoes a radical conversion; the holy curtain has been rent in twain, the gods have descended into the very centre of the earth. Epicurus, the greatest Greek representative of Enlightenment, is now his hero. Although the dissertation was not written as a specifically anti-Christian treatise, one cannot ignore the vein of polemics running through it. The most explicit and direct attack is directed against a Father of the church, Clement of Alexandria, who re-interpreted St. Paul's warning against philosophy in general as an admonition against Epicurean philosophy in particular. Clement's re-interpretation is centred on Paul's exhortation (Colossians 2:8): “See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ”. Apart from the fact that Epicurean philosophers are mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as having disputed with Paul in Athens (Acts 17:18), Clement's basic argument centres on Paul's particular mention of the “elemental spirits of the universe”; which leads Clement to aver that in admonishing us against philosophy Paul must have had Epicurean philosophy especially in mind.
Against the background of our analysis of Marx's dissertation it is worthwhile, in conclusion, to take another look at this part of the argument. The term “elemental spirits of the universe” is a translation of the Greek stoicheion. This term indeed plays a role in Epicurus’ philosophy. As I have already pointed out, Marx pays special attention to Epicurus’ peculiar distinction between the atom as arche and as stoicheion—a distinction closely akin to that between form and matter, between essence and existence. It is the atom as stoicheion which comes into manifest existence, in contrast to the atom as arche, which remains concealed in the realm of pure, ideal essence. Whilst as stoicheion, that is, as having appeared in the world of material phenomena, the atom is alienated from its essence, it is only from this stoicheion that the world of appearance can proceed. Epicurus—so Marx concludes—in distinguishing between arche and stoicheion, has grasped the contradiction between essence and existence at its finest point.
As a matter of fact, this is precisely the same contradiction which we have just noted in Marx's peculiar use of the term “procurer”. Just as the atom in its ideal, eternal essence, that is, as arche, is the product of self-idolizing imagination, fostered by the individual members of civil society, so the qualified atom, i.e., as stoicheion, the atom alienated from its eternal essence, constitutes the real world, where the repulsion between the individual atoms of civil society creates the sensible, material life of society. However, this contradiction, being the perverted consciousness of a perverted world, can be overcome only in a perverted and perverting manner, i.e., by a procurer.
St. Paul's warning is directed against idolization of the stoicheia, which are deified as elemental spirits of the universe, instead of Christ in whom the fullness of deity dwells bodily. Clement's comment interprets this apostolic warning as being directed against Epicurean or any other philosophy which “does not imagine the Creator”. The verb “to imagine”, in Greek, phantazein, which is used by Clement to denote the spiritual, creative power of faith, is interpreted by Marx in an opposite sense. Ironically, he praises Clement for rejecting those philosophers who did not invent phantasies about God. This ironic reversal of the meaning of the term conceals, however, a deeper issue. Against the background of the question of human imagination which, as I have explained, is a basic one in Marx's critique of heaven, his irony discloses a fundamental critique.
Marx's next comment on Clement's re-interpretation is to the effect that we in our time have a more adequate understanding of Paul's admonition, since we know that it applies, in fact, to all philosophers. This comment appears in a fresh light, when related to the fundamental critique aimed at the philosophers by Marx himself. We may recall the parallel, drawn in an earlier lecture, between the stories respectively of St. Paul's and of Karl Marx's conversion. To sum up the implications of what I have just been saying, there would seem to be good reasons for suggesting that paradoxically, Marx's conversion has something to do with St. Paul's warning against philosophy.
However that may be, Epicurus is the central actor in this drama. The next stage of his career is his apparent disappearance. In Marx's work subsequent to his dissertation, Epicurus seems to have vanished completely. In fact, he had simply gone beneath the surface. For Marx's critique of civil society, his critique of law, in a word, the critique of political economy which preoccupied him for the rest of his life, is to be understood as a struggle with the very contradictions which Epicurus had laid bare, without being able to overcome them.
Epicurus had disappeared from view, from the surface, in Marx's public writings, but not in his more intimate, private life. The day after Marx's death, which occurred on March 14, 1883, his friend Friedrich Engels brought Epicurus once more on to the stage and paid him, vicariously, a posthumous homage. Writing to a friend with an account of Marx's final hours, Engels rejoices that Marx had not been condemned to drag out the life of a helpless invalid. “With Epicurus, he was wont to say that death was no misfortune for him who died, but for those who survived. And to see this great genius lingering on as a physical wreck, to the greater glory of medicine and the mockery of the Philistines whom he so often flayed in the prime of his life, no, a thousand times better as it is, a thousand times better that we carry him to the grave where his wife lies.”
Thus it was that as Epicurus had been the hero of his youth, so now he accompanied him to his grave. The grave is the place where we return to the earth that gave us birth. It is also the place of resurrection.